Kane leads England to comfortable win over Bulgaria
Striker net hat-trick in Euro 2020 qualifier as England maintain 100 per cent record
Raheem Sterling of England battles for possession with Wanderson of Bulgaria at Wembley. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Harry Kane’s hat-trick helped blow away Bulgaria and continue England’s European Championship qualification cakewalk.
After finishing third in the inaugural Nations League over the summer, the Three Lions got their international season under way at the stadium they hope to end the campaign at when Wembley hosts the Euro 2020 final.
England are among the favourites to lift the trophy next summer and qualification for the finals is well in hand, with March’s drubbings of the Czech Republic and Montenegro followed by a 4-0 win against Bulgaria thanks to Kane’s treble and a Raheem Sterling goal.
Despite humility being the buzzword around the camp in the build-up, this was the kind of result expected by the sell-out Wembley crowd on Saturday.
Bulgaria are not the side they once were and the 1994 World Cup semi-finalists set up to frustrate England, only for needlessly overconfident play at the back to bring about Kane’s opener midway through the first half.
The England captain netted his second when Marcus Rashford was brought down in the box early in the second half, with the striker turning provider as Sterling bundled home minutes later.
Kane would end the day celebrating his second international hat-trick after scoring his second penalty of the day, adding gloss to another big win that England will look to build on against Kosovo in Southampton this Tuesday.
Southgate kept with the tried and tested for a match against a Bulgarian side that sat deep from the outset.
Kane was closely marshalled early on and the visitors’ backline was up to six-men deep when England were in possession.
Jordan Henderson’s hopeful volley was the best they could muster as they patiently prodded and probed, with a correct offside call denying the hosts a 19th-minute opener after Kane fired home a low Sterling cross.
But soon Bulgaria became the architects of their own downfall.
Playing out from the back is noble but perhaps foolhardy when Sterling is about. The England forward nipped in to cut out goalkeeper Plamen Iliev’s poor ball to Vasil Bozhikov, who he darted past before slowing down and crossing for Kane to fire home.
It was a 24th minute gut punch that Bulgaria were always going to struggle to recover from, even if was not the precursor to a glut of first-half goals. Kane’s header from returning right-back Kieran Trippier’s cross was the best England would muster before the break.
Bulgaria had been camped in their own territory for the bulk of the first half, with Wanderson and Galin Ivanov having their only attempts before the former tested Jordan Pickford from an acute angle just after half-time.
Hope of a shock equaliser would be short-lived, though, as Rashford burst down the left flank and drew a clumsy challenge out of Nikolay Bodurov. Kane stepped up to send Iliev the wrong way as the resulting penalty flew into the top right-hand corner.
Harry Maguire headed wide as England pushed for a third that would arrive in the 55th minute as Kane’s cross was turned home from close range by Sterling.
Mexican waves rippled around Wembley with the sting taken out of the proceedings, with Chelsea talent Mason Mount brought on for his England debut in place of Henderson.
But Kane ensured he would take both the headlines and match ball.
Kristian Dimitrov’s recovery challenge on the striker led referee Marco Guida to point to the spot, with the skipper dusting himself down to lash home.
Pickford produced a Hollywood stop from Ivelin Popov’s free-kick to prevent Bulgaria grabbing a consolation, while opposite number Iliev denied Rashford a superb goal after playing a one-two with Ross Barkley.